McConnell Defends Lawsuit to Undo Pre-Existing Condition Protection

Steven T. Dennis and Sahil Kapur
McConnell Defends Lawsuit to Undo Pre-Existing Condition Protection

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended a lawsuit to undo the Affordable Care Act’s protection of insurance for pre-existing health conditions even though it’s become a problem for Republican candidates in the campaign for control of Congress.

“Our candidates are able to deal with it,” McConnell said regarding a barrage of Democratic ads criticizing his party’s candidates on the issue. "There’s nobody in the Senate that I’m familiar with who is not in favor of coverage of pre-existing conditions."

The case, filed by Texas and backed by the Trump administration, contends that because Congress eliminated the tax penalty for violating the requirement that most individuals have insurance, the rest of the law including the consumer protections must be thrown out. Many legal scholars see the lawsuit as a long shot, including some conservatives who supported previous suits against Obamacare.

During an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg News, McConnell said he doesn’t think the lawsuit is a mistake.

"It’s no secret that we preferred to start over" to repeal and replace Obamacare, he said. That vote failed in 2017. "So no, I don’t fault the administration for trying to give us an opportunity to do this differently and to go in a different direction," the majority leader said.

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While Republicans sometimes have accused Democrats of turning to courts and executive actions when they were unable to get their way in Congress, McConnell said he didn’t see an issue with backing the lawsuit.

‘Nothing Wrong’

"Nothing wrong with going to court. Americans do it all the time; we can do it too," he said.

Vulnerable red-state Senate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have used the lawsuit as a cudgel against their Republican opponents -- in each case the attorney general of their state -- who signed on to the lawsuit.

A recent Manchin ad featured the senator shooting a copy of the lawsuit and accusing Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of wanting to "take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions; he is just dead wrong." McCaskill has run a series of video testimonials featuring Missourians who depend on the health-care rules.

Other Democrats like Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Montana Senator Jon Tester are similarly using the GOP’s support for the Texas lawsuit against their Republican rivals in competitive races.

Republican candidates argue that Obamacare isn’t necessary to protect pre-existing health conditions, although they have yet to agree on an alternate plan to preserve those provisions. GOP-backed bills in the House and Senate would open the door to letting insurers charge higher rates to sick people or provide fewer benefits.

The clash comes down to a difference between Democrats and Republicans about what it means to cover pre-existing conditions. Democrats believe insurers should have to cover a minimum set of benefits without price discrimination based on medical history, while many Republicans want to relax those rules as a way to reduce premiums for healthier people.

Several Republican senators have criticized the Texas lawsuit, including Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the health committee. Alexander backed legislation that would restore some protections for pre-existing conditions if the lawsuit is successful, but Collins declined to back it, saying it didn’t go far enough to save provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Sahil Kapur in Washington at skapur39@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, John Harney

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